I'm tired about talking about Cristiano Ronaldo, who until he officially moves will be known as That Guy, and I'm actually really excited about Euro 2008...aside from the fact ESPN is covering it. If Stuart Scott shows up on my TV someone is getting hurt.
Anyhow, this should be a really exciting tournament and it's really loaded even with Austria taking a spot as co-host. Heading into the tournament most fans are talking up Italy, France, Germany, Spain and Portugal as potential winners. All are strong teams, although the Germans and Portugese seem to be at a lower level than the others.
Germany is Germany -- their international speaks for itself, they never miss penalties, they play hard the full 90 minutes, their defense is always strong, and they have no creativity. Basically, they're an English team with hustle & heart and the ability to make penalties. Michael Ballack should be one of the tournament's best players, in what may be his final major tournament, at least as a major player. He's coming off a season in which he helped turned Chelsea's season around and is determined to go 1 or 2 steps higher than the team was in the 06 World Cup. Mario Gomez is a guy I like a lot, in fact I like this German team a lot, except for GK. Jens Lehmann does not seem like the keeper that can see his team through to the finals, much less the title. But the same was true of Man Utd's old GK Fabien Barthez in the World Cup and he damn near stole the Cup for France. 2-3 more inches on his frame & he stops most of the penalties -- he guessed right on just about all of them. But Lehmann has always been a wild card with his temper and now with talent evaporating, I'm not sure about him. The team has the capability to go all the way and I like them to get to the finals. Based on the path UEFA has put in front they should face Portugal in the semis.
Portugal is being paid a lot of lip service because of That Guy. Having the world's best player on your squad is certainly a help, but a softer defense and no striking are not. That Guy will be playing up front a lot and unless he's put in as a full-fledged ST that's going to leave them exposed in MF. I have faith in Deco showing up, Quaresma is a great talent, ditto Pepe and Ricardo, but there's not a lot of depth and if That Guy gets injured, they may not make it out of the group stages.
Spain has the most talented squad in the torunament -- any team that can leave Raul, Guti and Victor Valdes at home is incredibly talented and deep. Their striking is unreal, their midfield is scary, their defense is very good, and their goalkeeping has incredible depth. Cesc Fabregas should finally make his mark on the international level, but Iniesta and Xavi are the true standouts in MF. Fernando Torres should compete with Luca Toni for golden boot at the tourney. But we all know that Spain are chokers. No ifs, ands or buts. When you have that much talent and you haven't won anything in almost 50 years that's not just bad luck. Still France had a similar label going into the 98 World Cup. Things turned out well for them there and in Euro 2000. Spain's bad luck should let up, but will the choking? The likelihood of France or Italy in the quarters and semis makes their road very difficult.
France have the second best squad, maybe the best, on paper. They have a lot of flashy young players and very experienced veterans that have great international pedigree, but I'm not sure they field their best 11. Thuram is a great veteran, but he is nowhere near the level of a Philippe Mexes. Ditto Thierry Henry. Yes he's France's all-time leading scorer, but David Trezeguet had a fantastic year at Juventus and has a strong scoring record for France. Raymond Domench should strongly consider playing Trezeguet with Benzema and bringing in Henry as a super-sub, ala Del Piero for Italy. Bringing in Henry against tired legs is a smarter idea than doing the same with Trezeguet, who doesn't rely as much on pace as Henry does. I'm also not sure about starting Abidal over Evra, but a big part of that is my Man Utd bias and Abidal is still class, so no big deal. The rest of the line-up is very scary so even with questionable selection France can go far.
Italy have to be the favorites, even playing in the group of death without Fabio Cannavaro. The fact is they are World Cup winnters and their line-up is absolutely the most balanced of them all. The best keeper in the world in Gigi Buffon, a defense that can field Barzgali, Materazzi, Zambrotta (who looked fabulous against Belgium last week -- the move to Milan seems to have woken him up) is going to be hard to beat with or without Cannavaro. Gattuso and De Rossi should help stunt any and all romps through MF. Pirlo is one of the best playmakers in the world and his corners and free kcks will be huge benefits. Toni & Di Natale as the starting strikng pair with Del Piero, Borriello and Casano off the bench could see an offense the team didn't show in Gemrany in 2006.
My dark horses are Turkey and Switzerland. Half of Turkey's team is composed of players from Fenerbache and ask Chelsea how tough they are, plus Nihat is coming off a great year at Villareal. Switzerland are the co-hosts with lots of pace. I can see them making noise, but not past the quarters.
I'm picking Germany to beat Portugal in the semis with Italy beating Spain in the other semis. In the finals, Italy 2-0 over Germany in the last major tournament for many of the great players on this Azzuri team.